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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 7/29/21

Guests: Norm Ornstein, Laurence Tribe, Zerlina Maxwell, James Hildreth, Ashish Jha


This morning, Mitch McConnell finally spoke about his "yes" vote to begin debate on bipartisan infrastructure bill last night. As tens of millions of reckless followers of the double vaccinated Donald Trump continue to refuse to get vaccinated, the Biden administration announced it is sending 10 million vaccine doses to Africa which is also in the midst of a surge in coronavirus cases due to the delta variant.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. My team tells me that you are going to be speaking to an old friend of mine, Norm Ornstein tonight, which suggests to me you are going to be talking about at least the economic implications of these two big bills that the Senate is looking to deal with, both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the much bigger reconciliation bill.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Well, I need Norm as a genuine congressional scholar to check my enthusiasm for what we saw in the Senate last night and today. It seems from my perspective, Ali, the infrastructure bills on both tracks seem to be going shockingly smoothly. The bipartisan bill is even on more solid ground today than it was yesterday.

Mitch McConnell`s support now is pretty strong where yesterday it was a vote, and it was a surprising vote. Now he has voiced his support in a very strong way.

So I`m -- I`m surprised at how well it`s going. It`s very complex, two- track thing that they`re trying to do, which has never been done before.


O`DONNELL: So I got to check with Norm, you know? Am I getting, you know, ahead of this, or is this really going as well as I think it is?

VELSHI: Well, it`s a wise thing to do. I`ve often used norm for the same reason. I look forward to the show, my friend. Have yourself a good evening.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Ali.


O`DONNELL: Well, 24 hours after the Senate`s big bipartisan vote in favor of the Biden infrastructure bill, the enormity of the victory for President Biden appears to be even more solid than it did with last night a 67 votes in favor of the bill. You judge the strength of pending legislation not by the words of its most ardent supporters but by the words of the people who could kill the legislation if they really tried to.

That`s what makes the words Mitch McConnell said today all the more important. Mitch McConnell entered the Senate at the age of 22 as an intern for Kentucky`s Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper. Mitch McConnell returned to the Senate as a staffer in 1968 after law school.

For his first 20 years as a senator, Mitch McConnell proved the general rule that former Senate staffers become, if not the greatest thinkers in the Senate, certainly among the most capable legislators in the Senate, the most responsible legislators in the Senate when and if they get elected to the Senate.

Mitch McConnell was no one`s enemy in the Senate in those first 20 years. He was a conservative Republican senator in the Bob Dole mold, who took governing reasonably serious. He respected Senate norms. As chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee in the 1990s, he recommended the expulsion of a Republican committee chairman for sexual harassment, and he forced that Republican chairman to resign from the Senate.

Then in 2005, Mitch McConnell became the Republican leader of the Senate, and everything changed for Mitch McConnell. The last fully honorable thing Mitch McConnell did in the Senate was in 2006 when he proudly voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. Then with the Obama presidency came Mitch McConnell`s vow to block Barack Obama`s re-election by trying to block every single thing on President Obama`s agenda in the United States Senate.

Instead of using his powers as Senate majority leader to tame Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell became Trump`s errand boy. Long before tonight, Mitch McConnell had become the most dangerously malevolent Senate leader in history. He fought to preserve the Trump presidency in two Senate impeachment trials when he knew Donald Trump was guilty as charged.

It has been disorienting and inexplicable for those of us who knew the responsible, professional Mitch McConnell of his first 20 years in the Senate to watch him destroy the Senate as majority leader, destroy the Senate. He did that.

And so, none of us were ready for the apparent reappearance of the old Mitch McConnell, the one we used to know. And it happened last night when Mitch McConnell became one of the 17 Republicans voting to proceed to consideration of the Biden infrastructure bill.


People who could not believe that Mitch McConnell was actually supporting the Biden bipartisan infrastructure bill immediately pointed out that it was merely a procedural vote and it didn`t mean that Mitch McConnell was actually going to vote for the bill in the end.

But in the 21st century Senate, the procedural votes have become the real votes on the legislation. It used to be common for some senators to vote to proceed to considering a bill and then, having considered the bill, vote against the bill. But Mitch McConnell himself destroyed that practice by making sure that all Republican opponents to a bill would always vote no on any procedural vote.

And so in the 21st century, voting yes on the merely procedural vote almost always means voting yes on the bill itself. And this morning, Mitch McConnell finally spoke about his "yes" vote last night and sounded very much like the old Mitch McConnell, who is ready to vote for this legislation and watch Joe Biden sign this bill into law.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Yesterday, I joined a number of my Republican and Democratic colleagues and voted to begin floor consideration of bipartisan compromise legislation for our nation`s infrastructure. Our country would benefit a whole lot from some targeted investment in the kinds of real, tangible projects that fit a common-sense definition of actual infrastructure -- roads, bridges, ports, waterways, airports, broadband.

A bipartisan compromise to responsibly finance these kinds of investments is guaranteed to be a big -- to be big and complex. It`s guaranteed to be the kind of legislation that no member on either side of the aisle will think is perfect. But it`s an important basic duty of government.

I`m glad to see these discussions making progress. I was happy to vote to begin to move the Senate toward what ought to be a robust bipartisan process for legislation of this magnitude. This kind of focused compromise that our colleagues have been hashing out could not contrast more sharply with the multi-trillion dollars taxing and spending spree that Democrats hope to ram through on a party-line vote later this year.


O`DONNELL: So, of course, he`s opposed to the Democrats-only bill. But about this legislation, the bipartisan bill he voted yes for, he just said it`s guaranteed to be the kind of legislation that no member on either side of the aisle will think is perfect, but it`s an important basic duty of government. A version of that very sentence has been said about important legislation by all of the very best Senate leaders. That is what Senate leadership is supposed to sound like, and it is stunning on two levels.

One, that it is coming from the worst Senate leader I have ever seen. And, two, that it shows you how solidly on track for passage the Senate bipartisan bill is tonight. A bill that many Senate observers thought was falling apart earlier this week, just two days ago, three days ago.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose complex two-track strategy for infrastructure in the Senate is working perfectly so far, said this.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: It`s been my goal to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution during this work period. Some pundits have called that a tall order. I understand that.

But because of the vote last night, the Senate is now moving forward with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and we are on track to pass both elements of the two-track strategy before we adjourn for August recess. It took some prodding and a few deadlines, but it all has worked out for the better.


O`DONNELL: Once again yesterday, Donald Trump attacked the then nine Republican senators who had put their names on a public announcement that they were ready to vote to proceed to the bipartisan bill. There are only nine of them who made that announcement.

Yesterday, Donald Trump attacked them, calling them, quote, weak, foolish, and dumb. And when the votes were counted last night, there were 18, 18 Republicans defying Donald Trump in favor of the bill.

One of those Republicans, Senator Rounds, was absent and was unable to vote. So the recorded vote showed only 17 Republican votes for the bill last night on the Senate floor.


The leader of the Republican negotiating team, Senator Rob Portman, wrote an op-ed piece in today`s "Wall Street Journal" praising the bill, and while he was at it, he went out of his way to say this. President Trump wasn`t able to secure any legislative victories on this issue even when Republicans had full control of the House and Senate. That was Senator Portman`s way of pointing out that a Republican president whose party had control of the House and the Senate and was unable to pass an infrastructure bill must have been weak, foolish, and dumb.

Leading off our discussion tonight, our congressional historian Norm Ornstein. He`s an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. And John Heilemann, an NBC News and MSNBC national affairs analyst and host of the "Hell and High Water" Podcast and "The Recount", is with us.

Norm Ornstein, what are you seeing when you look at this action in the Senate? Am I getting carried away with my notion that this bill is so solidly on track now?

NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN: Well, I`m glad you at least cautioned that this was the worst Senate leader you`d ever seen.


ORNSTEIN: Even as you praised him.

O`DONNELL: Yeah. Well, can we just hold it for a second? I did not praise him. I merely reported what he has done and what I has said, and it does fit the-- the language used today does fit into the language of good Senate leaders.


O`DONNELL: I can`t let the word "praise" be used with Mitch McConnell. Go ahead. Sorry.

ORNSTEIN: I accept that. It`s like we were in a hot tub time machine and went back to the Senate of old.


ORNSTEIN: You know, McConnell did this because politically it would have been disastrous for Republicans if he had not, and all of these senators, including Portman, who ignored Donald Trump`s attempt to sabotage this bill, know that if they killed it, two things would happen. One is we would have this giant reconciliation infrastructure bill, and it would only be Democrats taking credit for things that are popular across the country. And, second, it would have added to the impetus for a possible filibuster reform.

But put all of that aside. This is a gigantic accomplishment. This bill is far from perfect. The fact that they took out the IRS funding to go after tax cheats is a Shonda, as we say. It`s absolutely shameful that they`ve cut some of the funding for mass transit is not great. There are other things we can`t really think very highly of.

But this is a solid bill that`s going to do a lot on the physical infrastructure, and it sets the groundwork for the bigger one. And as we have said multiple times, if we get both of these bills through along with the American Rescue Plan -- and we`re starting to see some progress on voting reform that makes it possible -- we`re talking about FDR territory here.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, as Norm points out, that IRS funding piece can go into the budget reconciliation bill and be done by Democrats only, and that`s what Bernie Sanders now and the Budget Committee and others are looking at. What was left out of here that we can patch into the Democrats- only bill. And Norm`s point about the good politics of this for the Republicans who did vote for it, it`s such an important point.

But getting the other party to see that your politics are also good politics for at least some of them does take political skill that Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer showed.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah. Lawrence, I think, you know, there`s never anything that I ever want to disagree with that Norm says, so just put me down as a big plus-one on everything that he just said to begin with.

But I do think, you know, there are a couple of points that always bear repeating and I feel like we come back to them frequently when we talk about legislative stuff on this program. One of them is that, you know, we have both talked about the complexity of this two-track process and I remember months ago you and I comparing notes and thinking there was a 20 percent, 30 percent chance it could work because it was such an incredibly kind of complicated, trying to land these two planes, build these two planes simultaneously while they`re taking off on the runway, and land them while they`re still not fully built simultaneously at two runways, that was going to be hard to pull off.

And I do think, you know, in the end, when the history of this is written, the fact that Joe Biden had all those years in the United States Senate is going to be an important part of that. It -- the lockstep -- and, this still is not all a done deal. We all know that. There`s still a lot of complexity.

There`s still the House, there`s still the progressives, there`s still the Republicans who could decide to bolt later if the political calculus changes because we know McConnell is only into -- everything always going to be -- every vote he takes is about what`s best for his politics for retaking control of the Senate.


But in the end, you know, I`ve never seen a degree of coordination between a White House, a Senate leadership and a House leadership as tight as the one between Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer`s shops. And I think again, just like the tactical question, that strategic question and the discipline of that goes all back to what Joe Biden learned about how to move complex legislation in his time in the Senate. He is a legislator president, and we`re beginning maybe to see just the first fruits of that fact.

O`DONNELL: I think it also includes, very importantly, his eight years as vice president and learning how much Mitch McConnell and those Republicans had changed.


O`DONNELL: And they were not the Republicans he used to deal with.

Let`s listen to what Joe Manchin said today about the prospects of this bill.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): We have 68. Mike Rounds could not be there, so if you count Mike Rounds in there, I think once people see the content of the legislation, it could be a lot more.


O`DONNELL: And Norm Ornstein, Jon Tester said something like that last night with Ali Velshi, saying he expects actually more than 68 votes when you get to actually voting on this bill.

ORNSTEIN: It wouldn`t surprise me that we`re up around 80, which would be absolutely astonishing given what we`ve seen with the interaction between the parties in the past and, of course, McConnell`s pledge that he would be 100 percent against everything Joe Biden wanted to do.

We have to keep in mind, Lawrence, that the next part of this is going to be tricky. It`s not only getting this through the Senate, through a House where a lot of progressives are unhappy with what`s been left out. It`s that Kyrsten Sinema, who was a major negotiator on all of this, has dashed some cold water on the ambitious $3.5 trillion plan that is a compromise itself in the Senate. They`re going to have to make some adjustments.

But when I look at this team, the one that John was talking about, even the White House team, Gene Sperling, Louisa Terrell, the liaison with Congress, Pete Buttigieg working hand in glove with those senators and making the outreach to the House progressives as well, I`m very confident they`re going to pull something important together and get the votes for it.

And Pelosi is the one who can get all of those House progressives to go along.

O`DONNELL: And there`s Steve Ricchetti, who has been doing this work for decades for Democratic White Houses.

The experience level is as good, better than we`ve ever seen, and the contrast with the previous administration is just a joke. Norm Ornstein, John Heilemann, thank you both for starting us off tonight. Really appreciate it.

And coming up, the deeply disturbed Republican Congressman Mo Brooks now says he was wearing body armor when he was cheering insurrectionists at the Trump rally on January 6th before the attack on the Capitol. And the Justice Department says it will not defend Mo Brooks in Congressman Eric Swalwell`s lawsuit against him for what he did that day.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe joins us next.



O`DONNELL: Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama has continuously denounced the investigation into the January 6th attack on the Capitol, which he urged to happen. Congressman Brooks has said he didn`t believe the riot would turn violent.

But yesterday, he told a reporter that he actually was tipped off about potential violence, he says, and he also said, I was warned on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days, meaning that week in January, January 6th. And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office.

And when I gave my speech at the ellipse -- that was at the Trump rally -- I was wearing body armor. That`s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker, to cover up the body armor.

And now, just 24 hours after receiving a lot of comment about his wearing body armor on the day that the Trump mob became so violent, Mo Brooks has amended, revised his remarks for wearing the body armor by telling a CNN reporter that he often wears body armor. His wife has wanted him to wear body armor because he has been threatened before.

He said, you take the necessary precautions much like you might bring an umbrella when it`s raining. Congressman Brooks is being sued by Congressman Eric Swalwell, who has accused brooks of inciting violence at the capitol that day by urging the protesters to, quote, start taking down names and kicking ass, which they certainly did try to do.

Congressman Brooks sought to dismiss the case against him, arguing he is immune from liability under a law known as the Westfall Act, which protects federal officials acting within the scope of their employment. This week, the Department of Justice rejected that notion that Congressman Brooks was acting in his official capacity and refused to defend him in court, saying, the record indicates that Brooks` appearance at the January 6 rally was campaign activity and it is no part of the business of the United States to pick sides among candidates in federal elections.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in conduct that, if proven, would plainly fall outside the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States -- conspiring to prevent the lawful certification of the 2020 election and to injure members of Congress and inciting the riot at the capitol. Alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a member of Congress is employed to perform.

Joining our discussion now, Laurence Tribe, university professor of constitutional law emeritus at Harvard Law School. He has won 35 cases in the United States Supreme Court.

Professor Tribe, thank you very much for joining us tonight. The Justice Department`s decision on the Brooks case, does that have any impact on how they might approach Donald Trump as a civil defendant in the same kind of lawsuit?

LAURENCE TRIBE, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: It certainly does, Lawrence. The justice department`s brief not only said that it is no part of the job of any congressperson to attack Congress, to incite insurrection, it pointedly said it`s no part of any federal employee`s job to do any of those things.


That inciting an unruly, partly armed, and violent mob to kick ass and to take names and to interfere with an official function of Congress is well beyond the sphere of any federal employee`s official duties and is therefore not immune from liability, especially under the so-called Ku Klux Klan Act, which is part of this lawsuit. An act passed way back in the 1860s that has two important parts. One part says that if you work with other people to interfere with the performance of the government`s functions, that is, if you conspire to undo the workings of government, you are going to be liable.

And the other part, very important as to Donald Trump, says that if you have the power to prevent an ongoing interference, especially a violent one with the functions of the government and do not use that power, are negligent and turn the other way, as we saw Donald Trump doing when he and his family were yakking it up and watching a TV screen as the riot went on, then you are liable for damages to those you injure. In this case, that would include not only people like Congressman Swalwell, who feared for his life, but also a number of the brave Capitol police, who are also suing.

So this is an important development not just for Mo Brooks. I don`t want to underestimate his importance, but he`s not the biggest fish in the pond. But it`s a terribly important development for the ultimate accountability of the guy who organized a lot of what went on that day and did nothing to stop it as people were being crushed, crushed almost to death in some cases.

O`DONNELL: On that point that you raised, the lawsuit that involves the president doing absolutely nothing while the attack was going on, we have now an increasing body of discovery of a sort through these new books that are coming out detailing that day and what Donald Trump was doing that day.

That material is now all available to the lawyers in the Swalwell lawsuit. They can use that as the basis for subpoenas to people like Ivanka Trump, who is reported in some of the books as having gone to her father repeatedly to say, you`ve got to do something, and he didn`t do anything, and others and the manipulations that we were trying to do. And they were specifically -- there`s reports of Donald Trump specifically refusing -- actively refusing to do anything.

All of that can be lifted out of what is now the book context and put in under-oath depositions by the witnesses who actually participated in that as this lawsuit goes forward.

Isn`t that what we`ll see in the discovery process?

TRIBE: Exactly. And we`ll certainly see this very powerful committee that Nancy Pelosi has put together that includes people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and of course Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin and a number of others, a committee that is going to hear evidence directly from some of the people who were in communication with the White House at the time.

Jim Jordan can`t quite remember whether he didn`t talk to the president or did talk to the president during that time, but he`s going to have to refresh his memory. And the Justice Department has made clear that executive privilege is not going to be available in many of these cases.

So we are witnessing the unraveling of the cover-up of the worst insurrection since the Civil War in the history of this country. This is serious, and it`s not going to end well for Donald Trump although, you know, he`s squeezed out of all kinds of fixes before, and I wouldn`t -- I wouldn`t underestimate him. He`s a very slippery eel.

O`DONNELL: Professor Laurence Tribe, thank you very much for joining our discussion tonight.

TRIBE: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, President Biden is now working on a new legislative strategy for voting rights. Zerlina Maxwell and John Heilemann will join our discussion next.



O`DONNELL: With the Biden infrastructure legislation on track in the Senate, the president is turning to voting rights. "The New York Times" reports that tomorrow the president will meet with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quote, "to discuss their party`s faltering efforts to pass major voting rights legislation according to two congressional aides familiar with the plans."

The meeting comes as Senate Democrats are inching closer to finalizing a revised version of the Democrats sweeping elections bill the For the People Act that could be released within days.

Yesterday, several senators including Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Joe Manchin met inside Senate Majority Leader Schumer`s office, as "The Washington Post" reports, "to hash out the details of the bill, which is expected to at least partially incorporate a framework assembled by Senator Joe Manchin".

Today Senator Warnock said he is encouraged by that meeting with Democrats focused on getting something passed to protect voting rights.



SENATOR RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Passing voting rights, in my view, is the most important thing we can do this Congress. Now, I know that there are a lot of pressing issues, but the American house is the house built by democracy. And if we don`t preserve our democracy, strengthen people`s access to it, we will not have done our job.


O`DONNELL: The Texas Democrats are still in Washington, urging lawmakers to pass federal legislation on voting rights today. Some of the Texas Democrats testified to a house oversight subcommittee.


STATE REP. SENFIONA THOMPSON (D-TX): I`m here because this is the seat of democracy. And my people who I represent has a right to be able to vote unabridged, just like all of you.

STATE REP. DIEGO BERNAL (D-TX): The manager at Target has more latitude to protect their customers than an election judge in Texas would to protect voters under this bill.

STATE REP. NICOLE COLLIER (D-TX): This is a practical implication that`s going to disenfranchise hundreds and thousands of votes of Texans.

And so that`s why we`re here. We tried to work with our counterparts, but every amendment that we presented was declined.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Zerlina Maxwell host of the program "Zerlina" that airs on Peacock, and John Heilemann is back with us.

And Zerlina, as soon as the infrastructure bill seems to be firmly on track, the president is turning to voting rights.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, RADIO HOST: Well, I think that Senator Warnock is right when he says that voting rights is the most important thing this Congress can do. And while all of these other issues are incredibly important, our access to the ballot box to be able to shape the policies that we would like to see as voters, that`s essential.

You know, you can`t get anything you want if you don`t have that access. And I think that, you know, what the demographics shows happening in this country -- it`s not a coincidence, Lawrence, that you see some of the most restrictive bills happening in states where the majorities are turning into Latinex population, for example, in a state like Texas, or the Latinex vote is growing in a state like Arizona.

And so all of this stuff is coinciding with these demographic shifts, and demographics are not destiny in terms of Democrats winning elections because they attract those voters if those voters do not have access to the ballot box.

Those voters gave the Democrats the majority in the Senate. It would be a real shame for those Democrats to turn around and not protect ballot access for those same communities.

O`DONNELL: None of the voting rights bills that have been considered by the Congress include any provisions about how the votes are counted, which is one of the new threats to voting rights that the new Georgia law has, the Texas law had it there, and then they took it out.

But there`s this whole Republican attempt to change what happens after votes are cast. This is part of the new negotiations that the Democrats are working on now.

Let`s listen to what Senator Manchin said about that.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I`ve told them. I said the bottom line is we should basically dedicate ourselves to a voting piece of legislation that truly is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that we`ve been working on. And narrow it down to basically taking care and protecting the polling place so people have a right to vote and protect their right to vote and make sure they have that vote and make sure it`s counted properly.

That`s all. It`s not going to be an overwhelming, overreaching, overarching bill. It`s going to be based on the lines of Voting Rights Act and protection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they trying to change your mind about the filibuster? Are they trying to change your mind?

MANCHIN: No, no. Everyone understands. They`ve been very, very respectful of that. They know where I am.


O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, of course Joe Manchin has said many things about the so-called filibuster rule, including being open to changing it in various ways. But the key thing in there he talked about is how the votes are counted. And that is something he is concerned about and that is something that Texas Democrats are concerned about.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It`s something we all should be concerned about. I mean it`s -- I think of all of these issues that are raised by these bills around the country, the questions related to what happens after the votes are cast, not access -- I mean those are all important issues, but you know, we`ve gotten off and sidetracked by questions about, you know, water in lines and even questions related to voter ID and other things.

The things that would have overturned the 2020 election would have been giving politicized bodies, giving Republican-controlled legislatures in these states, the ability to run the administration on the back end.

Who controls the counting room? If Republicans had had that kind of power, political power in Georgia, in other places, you know, Arizona -- name your state -- Pennsylvania, these key battleground states, we could have had -- Donald Trump could have been successful in stealing this election.

And a lot of these laws, not all of them but many of them -- most of them have provisions that would make that kind of change.


HEILEMANN: And I think it`s under the category now, Lawrence, of they call it election subversion. That`s what the new category of negotiation in these voting rights -- in this voting rights effort in the Senate is all about.

And I think it`s ball game. I think Republicans understand that if they control the counting rooms and the counting process, that is the way in which they can systematically undermine democracy in the most profound way.

We saw it on display, the threat of it in 2020. And I think if any bill that Democrats take up in the Senate or in the House or in Congress over these coming months, if it doesn`t address that issue, it misses the point.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And the For The People Act was written actually last year. It was written before the election.


O`DONNELL: It was written long before we saw these new Republican legislative proposals.


O`DONNELL: And Zerlina, we see a report in "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" that Georgia is already acting on that new law and they are basically trying to pull the vote-counting process away from Fulton County, in a major Democratic county.

So I mean the Republican strategy seems to be, we don`t care how many of you show up. We`re going to try to suppress that. But if you do conquer us there and you show up, we`re going to be counting. And when we do the counting, you`re not going to like what happens.

MAXWELL: Yes. It`s rigging the game on the front end and the back end. It`s making sure that no matter what happens and no matter what wave of people show up to say, we don`t want these people in office, it won`t matter because you have your folks in place.

It`s like playing the referees. I hate the sports analogies but it works here, I think, in helping folks understand what`s happening here.

And I think, you know, I think Republicans actually have overplayed their hand. And I think that the momentum is on the Democratic side if the Biden White House is willing to take this courageous step and be aggressive on voting rights. And I think that relying on the activism and organizing of voting rights advocates is the wrong approach.

And I think that going forward, they should say, look, those voting rights advocates organized and got people to show up to put us in power. And now it`s our job to utilize that power to protect the votes of those folks. And that`s the only thing that matters in this game.

O`DONNELL: Well, we`ll see what happens in this meeting tomorrow.

Zerlina Maxwell, John Heilemann -- thank you both for joining this discussion.

HEILEMANN: Thank you, Lawrence.

MAXWELL: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, there is new reporting tonight in "The Washington Post" about the delta variant and COVID infections among vaccinated people.

Dr. Ashish Jha and Dr. James Hildreth will join us next.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love dying and saying if I had just got vaccinated. This is an American tragedy. People are dying and will die who don`t have to die.


O`DONNELL: "The Washington Post" was the first to report tonight on an internal CDC document that says, quote, "the war has changed".

"The Washington Post" reports the delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must acknowledge the war has changed.

"The Post" reports that the document says the delta variant is, quote, "so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than ebola or the common cold.

The data and studies cited in the document played a key role in revamped recommendations that call for everyone -- vaccinated or not, to wear masks indoors in public settings in certain circumstances, a federal health official said."

The federal health official told "The Washington Post, quote, "Although it`s rare, we believe that at an individual level, vaccinated people may spread the virus, which is why we updated our recommendation."

The document cites data from an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, that, quote, "showed that people who were vaccinated were transmitting the virus to other vaccinated people. The person said the data was deeply disconcerting and a canary in the coal mine for scientists who had seen the data."

In Arkansas, the mother of 13-year-old Caia Morris Cooper (ph) says that because of misinformation, she did not get herself or her daughter vaccinated. Her daughter tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized.


ANGELA MORRIS, DAUGHTER HAS COVID-19: It`s very hard not knowing if she`s really going to come home anymore or not. It`s heartbreaking. I wish I would have made better choices for her.

I just had a false sense of security that it was just like the flu. I just want people to get their kids their shots. Everybody just needs to get the shot. It`s a much better route than the one we`re in.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now -- Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College and an infectious disease expert.

Dr. Hildreth, let me begin with you. You`re in Tennessee, which has a very low vaccination rate. It`s 39.1 percent of people 18 years and older. And we are now learning tonight that even among the vaccinated, the dangers of the delta variant are greater than we thought. What is this going to mean for Tennessee?

DR. JAMES HILDRETH, PRESIDENT/CEO, MEHARRY MEDICAL COLLEGE: Lawrence, thank you. Good to be with you again. I think what it means for Tennessee is that we have to be more vigilant and redouble our efforts to get people vaccinated.


DR. HILDRETH: This is not the same virus that we started with back in January of 2020. It`s clearly a different virus. And I do agree that we have to be -- we have to have a much more concerted effort to fight this virus because it is so easily transmitted.

And, you know, as long as the breakthrough infections remain low, I think that we can keep doing what we`re doing but clearly we have to be more vigilant about this virus because it`s clearly not the same virus that we`ve been concerned with for the last year or so.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Jha, this makes perfect sense that this is a new variant, in effect a new attacker against us. It`s like a new weapon being created during war and, of course, it changes the situation. And yet there`s so much discussion that I have seen on television among people who take this seriously, who are kind of shocked and amazed that we might have to wear masks again for good reason just as you might have to wear gloves again this winter if your hands get cold.

I mean, at some point this babying of the talk to Americans about how to take care of themselves, it crosses a line of just utter ludicrousness.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Lawrence, first of all, thanks for having me back as well. I mean look, the virus keeps changing. The pandemic has changed from last year, as Dr. Hildreth said, as a different virus.

If we decide that we`re going to deploy the same tactics no matter what the virus does, that would be really dumb. That would not get us where we want to go.

The CDC has looked at the data, looked at the facts, and said this virus is behaving differently. There`s more transmission happening among vaccinated people, not a lot but some, and said, you know, we want to make different recommendations for how people should behave.

That`s exactly what we want federal agencies to do. We want them to respond to evidence and data and change policy when the evidence and data changes.

O`DONNELL: And Dr. Hildreth, this happens all over the practice of medicine. You have people recovering from bone fractures who, you know, go from crutches to cane, and then they struggle with the cane and the doctor might say, all right, well let`s move back and try this.

People have had experience with this kind of adjustment in medical recommendation throughout their own medical histories. But suddenly America is playing dumb and saying, wait a minute, you said I didn`t need a mask a few weeks ago, how dare you say I need a mask now.

I mean, just how do you bear this kind of just rank ignorance that`s being spewed everywhere in reaction to this?

DR. HILDRETH: Well, Lawrence, I agree with Dr. Jha that the science is not evolving, the virus is evolving. And it gives me great comfort that the health leaders of our country are responding to how the virus is changing.

So I think people should understand that science is not truth. It`s the pursuit of truth. And the truth is as we now know it, this virus is evolving. All RNA viruses mutate and evolve. This one is no different.

So I`m really encouraged that our leaders are making changes, are making recommendations based on how the virus is evolving. I think that`s a very important point that people need to understand.

O`DONNELL: And Dr. Jha, in cancer treatment, for example, there are setbacks. There are times when doctors think we got it, we think you`re cancer free now. A year later, sometime later, the cancer is back.

And those patients don`t say to their doctors I am not coming back for cancer treatment, you told me my cancer was gone, I am not going to come back for cancer treatment. That is what these people are doing when they are complaining about having to put a mask back on.

DR. JHA: Yes, in some ways, Lawrence, we had predicted this in the sense that we knew that while the pandemic was raging around the world, while most of the world is unvaccinated, while a third of America is unvaccinated, a third of American adults -- that we`re going to see things like this, we`re going to see more dangerous versions. Absolutely.

This is not necessarily the last variant that we`re going to deal with. And people just have to sort of buckle in and get vaccinated. And if we do -- if we get 90 plus percent of Americans vaccinated, we really can put this thing behind us.

But until that happens, we should expect changes in the virus leading to changes in policy.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Ashish Jha and Dr. James Hildreth, thank you both for being more patient in your discussion of this than I personally can muster. Thank you very much.

DR. HILDRETH: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.



O`DONNELL: As tens of millions of reckless followers of the double vaccinated Donald Trump continue to refuse to get vaccinated, the Biden administration announced it is sending 10 million vaccine doses to Africa which is also in the midst of a surge in coronavirus cases due to the delta variant. Four million doses are going to Nigeria. More than 5.6 million doses are going to South Africa -- the single largest shipment to date by the United States to any country.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with more than 200 million people. It has a vaccination rate right now of less than 1 percent. South Africa has nearly 60 million people and a vaccination rate of 4 percent.

Last month President Biden announced the United States will buy and donate 500 million doses to low and moderate income countries around the world.


O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s LAST WORD.


CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again. I`m Chris Jansing, in for Brian Williams.

Day 191 of the Biden administration.